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Intro to our principles, guidelines and standards

The pursuit of quality touches every aspect of our digital services, products and content. Everything needs to be usable, readable or viewable, accessible, effective on all browsers and screen sizes, consistently on-brand, bug-free and stable, and serve many other user needs.

In devolving content and publishing, we need to give teams the tools to make high quality possible.

A Shelter web developer looking at code on a computer screen.

‘With an aim of being the leaders in technology within the charity sector, it's important to us that we get our guiding principles and standards right. They set the foundation for everything we do in our work.’

Tony Christopher, Lead Web Developer, Shelter (March 2021)

Why do we need guidelines and standards?

A slip in quality in any of these aspects comes with costs that usually include unhappy customers, and often includes a drop in search rankings and traffic, as Google has a low tolerance for poor quality.

To be able to align and coordinate digital teams and practitioners across Shelter, we need clear quality criteria and a universally agreed set of tools to guide us in our day-to-day work.

Shelter’s various discipline experts (for example, for UX, development, or brand) have generated a range of guidance for meeting standards and doing digital the right way.

And what about principles?

Principles are the foundations on which our guidelines and standards are based. They are fundamentals - an overarching set of values that instruct how we work together.

Through a series of workshops, over 100 staff contributed to developing a set of principles for Shelter’s digital activity. We call them our working principles because they very much cover the ways of working that will help us produce great digital output.

Read Shelter’s working principles.

While our principles are beacons for our ways of working, they are flexible enough to be tailored to the needs of a project. Often, a team will identify key behaviours and write its own charter for a specific piece of work. Shelter’s working principles save that time, replacing the need for continual charters.

For example, the principle We make evidence-based recommendations and decisions lays down a clear path, and each team can decide the behaviours that will help them follow it.

Who are our principles, guidelines, and standards for?

They are for anyone working to develop a digital service, product, or piece of content as part of their role at Shelter.

Normally, a product manager is responsible for how the working principles, guidelines and standards are followed when creating a product or service.

How are they developed?

At Shelter, most of our documentation is developed by communities of practice (CoPs). These cross-organisation groups of practitioners have an organisational responsibility to create and co-own the principles, guidelines and standards for all of our digital products.

Although our working principles generally remain unchanged, guidelines and standards are regularly reviewed, and updated when needed by CoP groups.

Is there a difference between a principle, a guideline, and a standard?

Yes. A principle is an overarching value that inspires how we work. Teams and practitioners can draw on these shared principles to shape how they work together. Collaborating based on principles provides greater flexibility and removes the need to predefine many time-consuming processes.

A guideline is a recommended piece of advice you should follow but, depending on your context, other ways of doing something can be tried at your discretion. For example, for the web writing guideline Make sure your paragraphs have a logical flow of information, starting with the most important information, when the writing is about someone’s personal story, the paragraphs can have a less linear flow.

A standard is a non-negotiable rule protecting Shelter and our users against a range of risks - for example, pages that aren’t accessible for users with disabilities, or that aren’t on brand.

What will success look like?

Our guidelines and standards will have been successful if teams around the organisation:

  • are interacting with our users through one voice

  • are producing user-centric, high quality and impactful products and services, which are tackling the most high-priority needs

  • are equipped with the knowledge and tools to do their jobs, and empowered to make decisions within their remit

  • are embracing continuous improvement, making decisions based on good information

  • are actively managing our live products and services, and reporting on performance

Read our range of content guides

Learn the lingo with our digital glossary

Contact us about the digital framework

Have a question or comment? Found a bug? Or maybe you’d like to contribute to the framework? Use our contact form to get in touch.

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